New South Wales

NSW is probably the best state on the mainland to be a caver. It contains

Jenolan, Wee Jasper, Bungonia, Wyanbene, Cooleman Planes, Wombeyan, Cliefden, Colong, Tuglow, Yarrangobilly (AKA Yagby), Wellington, Abercrombie and several other very small or one-off cave systems.

I won’t go through each one, but these are worth a quick mention:

Wee Jasper is the most popular area in NSW at least from our approach, although Jenolan is probably more visited overall. The caving in Wee Jasper is generally good, and beginner friendly, and whilst it is trashed from over use and there is little decoration, there’s lots of sport and all the caves can be challenging if you choose to do the hard parts in each cave. Dip Cave and Punchbowl are the main two caves.

Dip Cave has a magnificent 40 metre pitch into a large chamber, as well as a smaller 25 metre pitch into a different part, and then you can actually walk out at the bottom. The beauty of that is you don’t need to know how to ascend ropes, you just need to abseil in which is not hard and can be done safely using an extra bottom belay, and either pull the rope down as you go, or walk back up and de-rig it afterwards.

James Chitty (Son of David who runs AGA) abseiling into Dip Cave. Wee Jasper is generally a dry dusty caving area with only one wet cave. Note the amount of dust in the air. Photo by David Chitty.

James Chitty (Son of David who runs AGA) abseiling into Dip Cave. Wee Jasper is generally a dry dusty caving area with only one wet cave. Note the amount of dust in the air. Photo by David Chitty.

Punchbowl is a great cave with some huge chambers and lots to see, and it is protected by a 30-metre entrance pitch which can be laddered (although a 30m ladder climb is pretty unpleasant). Usually SRT is used to get in and out. Wee Jasper also contains Dog Leg Cave, Signature Cave and Australia’s only privately-owned show cave Carey’s Cave, run by an eccentric but lovely bloke who is so proud of his cave and puts on a great tour. A warning though – Wee Jasper is probably one of the most heavily used caving areas in Australia. On my first trip there I counted over 100 cavers camped in the campground. There are other caves in Wee Jasper but most are on private property and are not particularly special. It is also worth noting that a small number of cavers contracted Histoplasmosis from caving in Wee Jasper (A fungal lung infection that can be very serious

A very pretty entrance into the pitch head of Punchbowl Cave, requiring a 30m abseil (or for the masochistic a 30m ladder). Photo by David Chitty

A very pretty entrance into the pitch head of Punchbowl Cave, requiring a 30m abseil (or for the masochistic a 30m ladder). Photo by David Chitty

A very strange formation near the bottom of the entrance pitch in Punchbowl Cave. The author and someone I can't remember, from many many years ago.

A very strange formation near the bottom of the entrance pitch in Punchbowl Cave. The author and someone I can’t remember, from many many years ago.

Bungonia is the other popular area, again as it has caves suitable for beginners. However, Bungonia is much bigger than Wee Jasper and has at least a dozen excellent caves worth doing, many of which require SRT. A warning – some of the caves there have CO2, which worsens as you go deeper, so be aware of your breathing. If you find you are struggling to breath, turn back. Co2 can be dangerous and it will give you a killer headache and just ruin your day – death is possible in extreme conditions. Bungonia has caves for every level of caver so it’s a good area to go to for anyone, but to see it all you need competent SRT skills. There is a Bungonia book that can be purchased which will give you all the info you need. It is particularly known for its vertical caves and has some deep pitches.

Finally, I will mention Jenolan. This is an OLD area, but the show caves are perhaps the most beautiful show caves in Australia, and there’s quite a few of them. On top of that they have one of the longest caves on the mainland – Mammoth Cave – which is a fantastic cave with lots to see and variety of all kinds. There is a small caving lodge you can stay at in Jenolan, and the Sydney clubs are there every weekend and are always happy to have visitors. When I visited there last, I slept in the garage which had been filled with mattresses, but It beats a tent especially when you arrive at 1am after an 11-hour drive! There are many other caves in Jenolan too. Jenolan’s limestone is some of the oldest in the world.

The other areas are all apparently very good. There are enough caves in NSW to keep you going for a long time.